Building A Name For New Directors

A former actor and one-time water engineer is causing waves in France’s film production world.

His name is Alain Rocca.

From his headquarters in the eminently ‘independent’ Republique district of Paris, Rocca’s six-year-old Les Productions Lazennec has begun to establish a solid reputation by bringing new Gallic helmers to the French cinema and being rewarded with boxoffice success.

Rocca and partner Adeline Lecallier set up Lazennec in 1985 and went on to produce some 50 shorts over the next four years. Their philosophy is firmly based on the idea that new directors should be “revealed” to the world and that working with a young production company is a useful baptism of fire for both parties.

“All the work we did with the shorts was to see who we could collaborate with when it came to full-length films,” Rocca recalls. Fortunately, the first two helmers to emerge from this strategy came up trumps.

Eric Rochant’s debut pic “Un Monde Sans Pitie” was released in December 1989 and went on to sell over 400,000 tickets in Paris alone. Rocca had been producing Rochant’s short films since 1985. In 1990, Lazennec teamed up with Christian Vincent for his first film “La Discrete,” which has received wide critical acclaim and drawn over 500,000 Parisians to the cinema this year.

In the wake of these opening hits, Rocca was seen by some as the golden boy of French production, the man with the Midas touch.

“After the success of the first two pictures we were approached by a lot of people and received a lot of scripts,” he says. “But what they forgot was that these films were the fruit of work started five years before.”

Success has not gone to his head. Rocca remains disarmingly realistic about the business in which he finds himself. “There is no infallible system and nobody is exempt from a flop,” he warns. As if to prove the point, Eric Rochant’s recently released “Aux Yeux Du Monde” has failed to set the Paris boxoffice alight.

“Honestly, I have no explanation for the setback of Eric’s second film,” admits the producer. “The number of entries we had with our first two pictures came as something of a surprise to me; as did the results for ‘Aux Yeux Du Monde.'”

Undaunted, Les Productions Lazennec and Rochant are preparing the helmer’s third picture, tentatively titled “Le Secret.” Meanwhile Christian Vincent is scripting his second project for the company.

Vincent’s admiration of Rocca is clear. “La Discrete” faced a potential nightmare due to the fact that Judith Henry was acting in a Paris play and was not available to film in the evening. In addition, she was in Switzerland for the final three weeks of the shoot.

“Alain was obviously nervous when we started,” says Vincent, “but he never said anything.”

“I said to myself that if we had to redo any scenes we were in real trouble,” adds Rocca. “Also I was not quite convinced about Judith in the lead female role. I was wrong. I kept quiet because the artistic side of the film is not my job.”

Rocca’s faith in first-time directors has not been restricted to Rochant and Vincent. Last month filming finished on Manuel Sanchez’s debut pic “Les Arcandiers.” In August, Adeline Lecallier is producing a debut offering from Henri Herre. Also on the cards for 1991 is Cederic Klapisch’s directorial opener “Riens Du Tout.”

The Klapisch pic takes Les Productions Lazennec into uncharted territory in that it is costing around 35 million francs ($6.2 million) – considerably more than Rocca’s earlier films. “It’s a bit difficult. When a television network is putting up 1 million francs then it tends to leave you to look after the film because the financial risk is not enormous. Investors really want to stick their noses in when they have a lot of cash on the table.”

Two of the webs which will not be bothering Rocca are pubcaster FR-3 and pay-tv Canal Plus. Both backed “Un Monde Sans Pitie” and have now become firm partners of Rocca projects. “We had difficulty initially persuading FR-3 and Canal Plus to come on board for Eric’s first film, but now they trust us enough to leave us alone. Once I persuaded Rene Bonnell at Canal Plus he gave me his confidence and entirely supported me, even when the going was tough. It is extraordinary to work with him.”

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